I must admit, whenever I was on a diet in the past – i.e. when I labelled my food intake as some kind of restrictive short term abstinence, eating out at restaurants caused a whole heap of problems for me. One of three things would be going on:
Scenario A: I would try and avoid eating out, as I was convinced it would ruin all my progress
Scenario B: When deciding to go out, I would use the opportunity to binge on all the flavours (probably putting away 3,000 calories in a sitting), and carry on the following day too!
Scenario C: Or, I would go for the meal and be super restrictive by not eating the ‘bad foods’ – also known as being the boring one
I’m sure many can relate to the above. Looking from the outside, you would probably say these are not healthy thoughts and behaviours. I agree!!!
- Calories are King – There are no ‘bad’ foods per se from a weight control perspective, just healthy and less healthy options for overall wellbeing
- Feed Your Soul, You Wont Get Fat in One Meal – Enjoy being around friends and family. Plan and play the long game below, and never get anxious eating out again
- What You Don’t Measure You Can’t Manage – It’s impossible to know if you are above/below your daily calorie burn without tracking calories
- Three Options When Eating Out – Really simple, and allows you to experience freedom with food your whole life, not just when eating out 4-6 times a month
First, Let’s Deal With a Couple Misconceptions
The good news is, all this time you’ve been too hard on yourself! Body fat gain or loss is simply a matter of eating more or less calories than your use, over a period of time.
Here are the facts you need to ground yourself on:
Calories In vs Calories Out Trumps Everything
From a body fat perspective, you need not worry about anything else. Now, there are foods that are nutrient dense and gut friendly, and then there are foods that are empty in nutrients and inflammatory to your insides. For that reason, you should care about what you eat, but for the purpose of having the odd meal out and staying on plan, you needn’t worry.
You Won’t Get Fat in One Meal
You don’t get fat in one sitting – you’ve gotta work at it! Now, a massive blow out meal will perhaps set you back on a daily or weekly goal unless you have a plan (see below), but it’s important to have a broader perspective on fat loss or maintenance. Put it this way, you’re body is not adding weight on or off at the end of the day, but instead its constantly flip-flopping from storing extra calories for later use to using stored energy a few hours after last eating.
There are no ‘bad’ Macros
- Carbohydrates as a Macronutrient type are not evil. They don’t make you fat because they are carbs. That goes for potatoes, cake, ice-cream, bread or any other carby food.
- Fats, from healthy food such as meats, fish, butter, avocado, nuts, olive oil etc, are good for you! They are critical for cell production, hormone production and feeling satisfied.
- Proteins have a satiating affect, and are the most important macronutrient, as every muscle and organ in your body is made up of and needs Protein’s for their survival.
You’re not Hungry, It’s Your Cravings
The human body has been designed perfectly. The average person could easily survive some 40 odd days without food – and there are many people that fast for health reasons between one and 21 days. The body switches from using blood sugar to breaking down stored fat (and a little protein) after 12 hours or so. The headline here is, just be mindful that your appetite is more about the want, your eating habits and your cravings than it is the bodies demand for fuel. So, try and slow down when eating out, enjoy the social connection, and stay within moderation.
A Little Housekeeping to Bring More Food-Freedom
Spoiler alert – this isn’t rocket science, but it’s crazy how few people actually get it.
Firstly, remove this idea of Diet out of your head
A diet suggests a time-limited restrictive time where life sucks as you eat bland food that typically misses the full profile of nutrients and macronutrients your body needs. Instead, sign up to eating mostly whole foods as a lifestyle choice. Take a look at our Food Diary Micro-Blog for lots of super tasty, incredibly filling and most importantly healthy meal ideas when cooking at home. When you make this mental and habitual shift, you learn to enjoy healthy food, and with these foods you will genuinely struggle to over eat as they are naturally filling.
Calculate your daily/weekly Calorie Budget
This is simple, just search for TDEE online and you will get a number of calculators that will allow you to determine your daily energy expenditure based on lifestyle, age, weight and exercise levels. We’re all so individual, so it’s not an exact science, but it’s good enough. Based on your body goals, you will either want to maintain, lose or gain weight. Assuming the latter, you’ll reduce your TDEE calorie number by 10% (slow diet) to 25% (crash diet). This is your Daily Calorie Budget. You’ll reassess it every couple months based on your new body weight, but for the most part just remember this number. You’re Weekly Calorie Budget is simply this number multiplied by seven.
Track your Calorie Consumption
I promise, this sounds so much harder than it actually is. Download MyFitnessPal or My Net Diary (or other similar smartphone apps) and get yourself a cheap set of digital weighing scales for the kitchen. These apps have a huge database of whole foods and almost everything that is sold with a barcode. Either weigh the whole food or scan the package and select the portion size. And as most of us eat the same 10-20 meals every month, it’s so easy to copy from a previous day. I’ve personally been tracking my calories for over a year, and it’s given me so much freedom!
To be clear, if you don’t calorie count, you’ll be underestimating or overestimating by some margin continuously. After a few weeks or months, you can absolutely be more intuitive, once you can gauge calories per food/portion by eye.
Now, The SUPER EASY Approach to Eating Out & Managing Weight
When eating out, you now have Three Options – all of them focus on enjoying the moment:
#1 – Save a Chunk of Daily Calories – This is my standard approach. My typical meal out is about 1,600-2,000 calories. Perhaps a little more if I really let go. I either do an Intermittent Fast (not eat breakfast) or generally make sure I have light meals during the day to leave me with about 2,000 calories for the evening. That’s a lot – I can have starter, main, dessert and a glass of wine typically within this ballpark.
#2 – Measure Against Your Weekly Calorie Budget – Instead of worrying about your daily budget, say for example your daily budget is already pretty low, think about your weekly budget instead. This means getting to the end of the week and being within this target. Maybe you hold back a little the day before and after, or you skip breakfast for a couple days (and feel great in doing so BTW!). The idea here is to not get too precious of any given day, but instead consider the longer game. You won’t get fat in one meal!
#2 – Consider it a ‘Cheat’ Meal – Personally, I don’t like this term, as it suggests you are doing wrong. With the misconceptions dealt with above, and the housekeeping guidelines followed, there is no such thing as cheating with food. You’re either designing your habits to allow for eating out, or you’re having a day off from the detail, as you know you’re in control of the long game. Don’t get me wrong, you can lose the plot for a whole day, or make unhealthy decisions on which foods to eat, and in which case that’s probably something to try and keep control of.
Here are a few Extra Eating Out Tips:
- When eating out, Feeding Your Soul comes first – After all, a big reason of eating out is the social connection and bonding that occurs when breaking bread with friends and family. Now is the not the time to be the annoying and awkward one that resists enjoyment.
- Avoid the table bread – at say 150-200 calories a piece, it quickly adds up
- Enjoy some wine – Red Wine has antioxidants, taste good with food, has no gas or wheat, and is only 150 calories per small glass (175ml)
- Spoil yourself, have a dessert! – A meal out is not complete without dessert right? Just allow for it. A great option is an Eaton Mess at about 350 calories.
- For a three course plus wine, set aside 1,500 – 2,000 kcal – I’m a big eater and love flavours. A three course at a steak joint with a shrimp starter, 10oz steak, all the trimmings, a small dessert and a glass of red is just under 2,000.
- Think about Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density – When eyeing up options, look for plates that will be tasty AND good for you, versus just a calorie sink and overly processed. Processed foodstuffs have less nutrients, are more inflammatory and hijack your sense of fullness.
That’s it. I’ve been managing my weight and body composition for the last 1-2 years this way, and I truly don’t feel that I am missing out on anything. I’m eating more food, and tastier food, then ever before, and it feels amazing to know that 80-90% of what I eat is actually helping my body thrive! I have a meal out 1-2 times a week, even when I am cutting (TDEE kcals minus 10-20%), just be following the principles above. The key trick for me, is to intermittent fast that day, as I feel mentally on fire being fuelled off ketones (fats), and it gives me a nice cushion to really enjoy the evening out! 😁
Follow this and other topic areas in our Micro Blog series as they unfold. Comment if you have questions or ideas.